Therapists have a front row seat to human nature. They’re privy to what people are thinking, feeling and fearing. They’re privy to people’s deepest yearnings and dreams. They’re privy to what people believe about themselves and others. They’re privy to people’s pain and how they process it. They’re privy to how people behave and how they navigate relationships. Which is why we asked six clinicians to share what they’ve learned about human nature after many, many years of seeing clients with many, many different issues.
In her work with clients with complex traumas, Laura Reagan, LCSW-C, has learned that being disconnected from yourself will lead to feeling disconnected from others. Because you can’t be fully yourself with someone if you don’t know who you are or what you want or need. In fact, some of Reagan’s clients don’t even understand the meaning of the question, “What do I need?” You can’t be vulnerable and share your innermost feelings if you don’t know what those feelings are.
Psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, has learned that everyone has baggage. “When I first started as a therapist, I felt intimidated by the highly successful people who seemed to have everything together career-wise. I soon found out the highly successful doctors, lawyers, politicians and celebrities all wrestle with the same baggage everyone else does.”
And that baggage—like the fear of failure and need to meet others’ expectations—can actually spark success in their career. But it also can derail their relationships and emotional lives, Howes said.
Another lesson lies in people’s resiliency. That is, we are more resilient than we think. For instance, some of Howes’s clients have sought therapy to help them “build a thicker skin.” Yet, when they reveal their stories of abuse and injustice and how they’ve achieved certain professional and personal goals, they actually reveal their amazing strength and courage.
“They may have adopted the identity of overly sensitive and weak, but their history points to a tremendous ability to overcome hardship and seek a healthier life,” Howes said. “Even…seeking out therapy is a compassionate and healthy act.”
Marriage and family therapist Jennine Estes has learned that connection is a foundational human need. It’s a need we try to meet with everything from social media to support groups (and it’s why we sometimes gravitate toward and stay in unhealthy relationships). “Sitting with copious amounts of people in my therapy practice, I have learned so much about how we all want to be loved.” (Because of this, she created the #BeingLOVEDIs project).
Estes has learned that fear is at the root of most relationship problems. For instance, she said, a couple fighting over bills is really fighting about their fears of losing security; of not being able to rely on each other; of not being heard; of dwindling finances in the future.